In 2005, I watched as its predecessor slowly disappeared and it began to take shape. I admit, I didn't know what to make of it. Hmmm, this could be interesting. And, I was sad when I snapped photos of the very last section of the old stadium came down, learning that several hours later, it was officially gone.
But then a strange thing happened: I started liking the new stadium. It was amazing to me that this new structure could look so much like it was plunked down in place a century ago. It complements both the old and new architecture that downtown has to offer. I chided myself for selfishly hanging onto familiar history and admitted that the new stadium actually looks more at home in downtown than the old stadium ever did. This gave me a great sense of hope.
Hope that the wrecking ball that was so alive during the 1970s and 1980s wouldn't reappear. Hope that more recent debacles like the Century Building and the Ambassador Theatre wouldn't be repeated. And hope in a brand new process to redesign and reassign the Gateway Arch grounds.
Leaders of the final five teams vying for the job gave brief presentations to a crowd in one of downtown St. Louis' gems, the Roberts Orpheum Theatre earlier this week. The competition is an effort by CityArchRiver 2015, a private organization working with the National Park Service to identify a plan to tie the Arch, one of St. Louis' most prominent icons, with the rest of downtown. If you've ever been to the Arch, you know that the landmark isn't exactly easily connected to the rest of the skyline it dominates. (You have to cross Interstate 70 to reach it from the heart of downtown.)
The idea is to have a new development plan for the 18-block Gateway Mall not only in place but completed in time for the 50-year anniversary of the Arch in 2015. It will be fascinating to see what they come up with and, even more so, what ultimately walks aways as the winning idea. We'll know in August.
2015 ... It's not that far off. I'd be dubious that that much could be done in such a short time but I've seen it happen in the past few years. Busch Stadium. City Garden. Dozens of residential a(the Washington loft district) and retail developments (think Schnucks' Culinaria) either being announced or getting under way. And it didn't happen without a lot of hard work and in many cases, years of planning.
Still, downtown isn't utopia. There are still a lot of things that have to be reconciled. There needs to be more retail. More entertainment venues. Downtown can't shut down at sundown. This is a challenge faced by cities all over the country.
I really enjoy downtown and take great joy in celebrating both its heritage and the present day attractions that are part of what I think may be a building vibe for this vital part of the city. It may be naive but I am hopeful.
Hopeful that, unlike many cities across the U.S., St. Louis will carefully preserve the historical structures it has left. Hopeful that a scalpel, rather than a chainsaw, will be used to cut existing features that may impede meaningful and significant development -- and NOT another parking garage. Hopeful that preservationists will stay active in the future and that futurists will see the value in preservation.